Naruto Shippuden
Episode 410

by Amy McNulty,

This week's entry in the chunin exam arc is an example of audience investment that just isn't there. At least this episode makes use of a new formula. Instead of a trio of familiar Hidden Leaf ninja facing off against a trio of enemy shinobi, the real enemy here is a gigantic sandstorm that grinds the second stage of the exam to a halt. (Granted, the sandstorm is caused by an enemy ninja, but he's not even aiming to attack any of the characters we care about—he's after some Hidden Sand ninja we've barely seen before this.) We're treated to scenes where multiple groups face the onslaught of the vicious sands—with Team Guy's brief interlude as the highlight—but most of the focus is on Foo (previously subtitled "Fuu"). Even so, her time in the spotlight this week is decidedly brief, and it's interwoven with a plot centered around characters we don't care about, who are trying to unseat Gaara from his position as Kazekage.

We do learn a bit more about Foo's relationship with her village's leader Shibuki, and the reasons behind her bubbly personality. Since Shibuki taught her that the best way to end wars is to make friends, she's incredibly eager to show kindness to her "enemies." Even so, the episode feels scattershot, and the audience has virtually no connection to the characters who eat up the most screen time. Furthermore, when Gaara finally makes an appearance, he alludes to how much he worships Naruto yet again. It's simply unrealistic for so many characters to think about the titular protagonist so often, and Gaara is easily one of the Church of Naruto's most vocal devotees. Yes, his optimism and mercy started Gaara down a better path in life, but there's no need for the Kazekage to preach the gospel of Uzumaki whenever he finds himself in a bind.

Though this week's story is humdrum, the visuals are fairly impressive. The sandstorm in particular is a sight to behold. In one scene, Houichi, the personality-less new monk villain responsible for creating the sandstorm, discusses his plans with an unmemorable anti-Gaara baddie who hopes to extract Shukaku from Gaara during the exam. It's simply a flashback to quickly explain Houichi's reasons for attacking Gaara's disciples. However, it's painted in a textured style that's faintly reminiscent of some of the gorgeous visuals in Gonzo's futuristic remake of The Count of Monte Cristo.

Naruto Shippūden continuously overestimates the appeal of the current arc, even if the show is no doubt required to churn out a certain number of filler episodes before returning us to the main storyline. It's not a good sign when an inanimate sandstorm and a stylistic choice during a flashback are the most notable aspects of an episode, but this arc is wearing viewers down. While the shift in story structure is welcome, it's high past time for the teams we care about to obtain their second scrolls and for the story to move on.

Rating: C-

Naruto Shippūden is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

Amy is a YA fantasy author who has loved anime for two decades.

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